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San Jose launches program to pay homeless people to clean up trash

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By Wesley Severson - Published on November 13, 2020.

San Jose has a fair share of homeless encampments, many of which are tucked away next to freeways, underpasses, or dried-up creek beds. 

The Mercury News reported in September that the city has allocated $3 million dollars for a campaign to clean up trash that has been accumulating at these camps over the last year.

But now, the City of San Jose has partnered with Mastercard on a program to pay homeless people to clean up their own trash at messy camps.

City officials including San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo held a press conference on Thursday at Roosevelt Park to reveal the new pilot program under the BeautifySJ initiative called “Cash for Trash.”

The program provides homeless residents with bright green trash bags and a Mastercard debit card. When residents clean up 1 full bag of garbage they get $4 dollars added to their reloadable card. 

Individuals would be limited to making $20 per day through the program, and there would be restrictions on using the money to buy alcohol and tobacco. 

According to KGO, the program was supposed to launch in February but was delayed due to the pandemic. It will now launch at over 40 locations throughout San Jose and is expected to help around 400 homeless people.

One of the goals of the program is to build a better relationship between the city and its homeless population. 

"As we build that trust and partnership with our encampment residents, it allows them to kind of do a warm handoff to the next rung. So, now we can get our outreach workers, social workers, and mental health to come in," Olympia Williams, Program Manager for Beautify SJ told KPIX.

"I have spoken with many homeless residents who have expressed a desire to be part of the solution. Through Cash for Trash, we enlist our homeless neighbors in our battle against blight while paving a pathway for future interactions that will open many of our homeless residents to services and assistance," Mayor Liccardo said at the press conference.

KPIX reports that along with help from Mastercard to help pay for the program, $50,000 will come from a City Covid-19 relief fund and Valley Water is donating $60,000.

The program is the first of its kind in the nation and Mayor Liccardo says that other cities like Austin, Texas, Chattanooga, Tennessee, and West Sacramento are already looking at trying to launch the program to help their homeless populations.

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